Harrison recruited first HJC students

September 11, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - When she was 22 years old, Lois Harrison spent the summer driving around Washington County asking families if they wanted to send their children to a new college.

Eventually, Harrison found 94 men and two women who wanted to spend their evenings taking classes. Those 96 students became the first class of Hagerstown Junior College in the fall of 1946. About 25 of those students graduated two years later.

Now known as Hagerstown Community College, the college is celebrating it's 60th year of operations.

Harrison had just finished her own education, having graduated from Columbia University with a masters degree in school administration. Her first job out of school was as the administrator for the fledgling HJC. She also served as the registrar, counselor, sociology teacher and hired most of the first faculty members.

There was a ready market of students she tapped into, Harrison said.

"All these men were getting out of the service and needed to finish their education," she said.


Harrison's husband, Richard, was one of those men. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and returned to Hagerstown with G.I. Bill credit.

Richard Harrison said that everyone was "gung-ho" about studying.

"I knew that was my only chance to get some school," he said.

She felt very responsible for that first class, hoping they would get somewhere, Harrison said.

Two-year colleges were not common back then, and no one was sure whether the students would be able to transfer to four-year universities, she said.

But that first class met with success.

"They transferred into prestigious institutions and did very well," she said.

Those first graduates went on to become lawyers, accountants and doctors. One became a bank president in Tennessee, she said.

"It was a wonderful group of people who worked very hard and were determined to be educated," Harrison said. "That first class was the most energetic, ambitious, hardest-working group of students you would ever see anywhere."

Her husband attended dental school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. He was the first person accepted into that dental school from a two-year college.

Harrison said the University of Maryland was not encouraging about accepting students that first year.

State Department of Education officials visited HJC, interviewed faculty members and wrote a letter verifying that HJC was a legitimate school. Students sent the letter to four-year colleges when they were applying, Harrison said.

In 1946, HJC was affiliated with the Washington County school board and classes were held at Hagerstown High School after regular school hours. Language classes were so small that they were held in the high school's boiler room during the day. The college's office was tucked away in one-fourth of the high school's front office.

"It's amazing what determination does for people," Harrison said.

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